DISCLAIMER: I'm not a vet and I have no veterinary or medical background whatsoever. This information on liver disease in dogs is not meant as a substitute or replacement for veterinary advice. It's meant for educational and informational purposes only, as a starting point for discussing the diagnosis and treatment of canine liver disease with a qualified vet.
Background: My dog had been diagnosed as a Cushings Dog. The symptoms of Cushings Disease in dogs are easily mistaken for the natural progression of old age... we were fortunate to catch it, and, not long after I started my dog on maintenance therapy for Cushings, I started seeing subtle signs of something not right. Back to the vet he went. After more testing, I got the devastating diagnosis that he had "significant liver damage".
The vet estimated he would feel okay for 2 or 3 weeks and then start a decline. Surgery wasn't an option; my dog's liver was covered in multiple lesions. Supportive care was what I decided on, and at the time of writing this web page, it's been 9 months and my ancient "pup" is still going strong and feeling great.
The main issues were getting him to take his medications (several types of supplements and pills), and getting him to eat. We all need food for energy to help our bodies heal when we're ill, and it was no different for him. It took about a month before he really started turning around. At 2 months, he was perhaps 75% of normal, and at 3 months he was pretty much himself again (his lab values, though, took a couple months more to return to near-normal).
It is critical that you find a vet you trust, and one who will give you a straight-forward answer to your questions. Preferably, you can find a vet who is experienced with liver disease - an Internal Medicine Specialist (also called an IMS or an internist) is often the best person for this job.Zentonil and Marin, both of which contain ingredients that help the liver. Ask your vet for more information and to make sure these are safe for your dog.
Fair warning though, that the costs of all these pills add up and it can be very expensive. Ordering online is often cheaper (I order ours through Amazon.com).
Pictured above: NUTRAMAX Marin Chewable Tablets
One of the biggest and most stressful issues was appetite problems, more specifically, inappetence: my dog simply did not want to eat. The liver disease was making him nauseous, and even taking a Pepcid tablet twice a day did not give him significant relief from the nausea.
I know that some vets will recommend that you feed a prescription diet that has been specially formulated for dogs with liver disease. The problem with this is, if a dog won't even eat many of his favorite foods, then why would he want to eat this new diet? (For the record, I tried offering my dog several brands of prescription dog food meant specifically for dogs with liver disease -- he consistently refused all of them.)
Our vet told us to take our dog home and feed him anything he wanted to eat. I think this was good advice. I strongly felt that it was better that he ate something, anything at all, then insist he try a prescription diet, or a low-protein diet, and instead have him eat nothing at all. A body needs food for energy to help itself heal.
You might be wondering why I didn't use cheese or hot dog, or something that most dogs love. It goes right back to not hiding pills in food -- if he had discovered the pills inside one of these foods, he might have stopped eating it. We couldn't risk him turning away from any food that he still enjoyed, so we used the Pill Pockets instead.
Someone had suggested to us that we try unflavored Pedialyte, which is a hydration drink for children. I gave it to my dog a few times, but he hated it so much that I stopped. Instead, I added water to his food whenever he would accept it (for example, mixed with a bit of tasty canned food).
If your dog gets dehydrated, the other thing your vet can do is give your dog subcutaneous fluids.
Your pet might also find a drinking fountain more interesting - many pets love running water - and may be encouraged to drink more.
You can check your dog for dehydration by:
I never could persuade my dog to eat a low-protein diet, as dogs with liver disease are supposed to do. He was always thrilled and happy when it came time for his walk (oddly, his energy level never flagged, even though he wasn't eating much) - but when it came to food, it had to be extra-delicious for him to even consider it. For him, extra-delicious = protein.
It took about 5 months from the time of diagnosis to get my dog's liver values and function back to near-normal levels. But much earlier than that, he was back to eating well. Now -- 9 months after diagnosis, at the time I'm writing this -- his liver appears to be stable. But that doesn't mean it's all okay. Since he has a history of liver problems now, he continues to get his nutritional and supportive supplements. We stay away from drugs whenever possible, and use complementary/alternative therapies instead. For example, instead of using the heavy-duty drugs Rimadyl or Metacam to relieve his arthritis, he gets Zeel (recently renamed T-Relief) and goes for acupuncture treatments. So far it seems to be working. If or when it stops working, then I will give him whatever drugs needed to keep him comfortable and maintain his quality of life.
The liver is an amazing organ. Liver calls can regenerate, and dogs can regain good liver function even when there has been significant liver damage. It happened with us. That's not to say that it will happen for every dog... sometimes the damage is simply too great and we need to make the difficult decision to let our friend go when life isn't any fun anymore. Early detection can provide more options and more time to try to reverse the damage - be sure you know the symptoms of liver problems in dogs, and talk to your vet to figure out a course of action. There is hope for healing canine liver disease.
I want to thank you for writing this article. My sweet senior boy Kashi has an enlarged liver and it's pushing his stomach and all his organs . He's not interested in eating but I keep trying everything I can think of.
Reading your article made me feel so much better as I'm going thru everything you wrote. I ordered the Marin treats last night and am praying he'll at least try them. Im not sure how long my boy will be with me but im trying to make him comfortable. You are an angel. Thank you again and God Bless.
This article actually gave me some hope. My dog has been at the University Hospital since last week and they basically say here liver is too damaged and that she won’t recover. I don’t really believe that because she still wants to go for a walk‘s is thrilled to see me etc. she has no appetite though and I am taking her home tomorrow. I already bought the stuff to rub on her gums. My dog is a therapy dog and does so much good in this world I am not giving up on her. Thank you so much.
Also, I still have no idea and neither does the vet what caused her liver damage. Three weeks ago she was running around catching boomerangs.
Thank you so much for the post! my dog was just diagnosed with liver problem. His ALT is high and ALP is 600 times higher and he hasn't been eating for the last week or so and lost 2 pounds. I am worried about how much longer he can last if he continues not eating any nutrients. Should I buy any supplement to boost his immune system and force on him using syringe?
My dog Jess was diagnosed with liver disease in May 2016 at 10 yrs old, Alt & Alp both went up to around 1700, she had jaundice and wasn`t eating, I cooked porridge and put it in Actimel pots
which she let me poor down her throat 3 times a day and quite happy for me to do it, that kept her alive until drugs worked and she started to eat again, the vet put Jess on Hills L/D plus Prednisolone and Denamarin.
It took close on 6 months for blood levels to get back to normal.
It is now 22 months since Jess became ill and she is looking good, although she has had a couple of seizures [I used Nutra Calm for them]
I Have put Jess onto a home cooked diet , now 2 weeks into this and looks even better, due for a blood test in 3 weeks so will see how it worked out.
As the writer of this post has said, none of the treatment is cheap, but no more expensive the a few holidays abroad.
Nearly forgot! a cake icing syringe is good for feeding!